Sunday 30 January 2011

Home Sweet Hut: Part 1

Ironstone Hut: a charming Tasmanian hut nestled into a hillside near Lake Nameless

Bushwalking huts: where do you start? They’re smelly, dank, draughty, ill-lit, noisy and uncomfortable. Their conveniences aren’t, and their inconveniences are legion.  Moreover they’re full of joke-telling, card-playing, snoring, messy, raucous individuals. Just like me. And I love them!

But it’s taken a few seasons of walking in New Zealand for me to realise how huts can and should function. Before that I think I saw huts as something of an optional part of bushwalking in Tasmania. After all it is rare for hardened Tasmanian bushwalkers to walk without a tent.

And to be brutally frank some of Tassie’s huts are ugly, mean little edifices probably built out of sheer necessity. Sometimes it feels as though they were built with scant regard for either the surroundings or the would-be users.

Such huts are little cared for, little loved and tend to promote a mean-spirited culture among users. If you and your fellow walkers have ever walked into an already-occupied hut and been greeted as though you’re a leper, you’ll know what I mean.

My New Zealand experience contrasted starkly with that. It may help that hospitality is etched deeply into Kiwi DNA. But New Zealanders also take deliberate steps to create a welcoming atmosphere for trampers.

We arrive at Routeburn Falls Hut and find the hut warden turning his weather report and pass checking session into a social – and very funny – get-to-know-you exercise. Reluctant at first, we end up laughing and chatting and bonding with the group that we’ll share the whole walk experience with. Some years later, some of us are still in email contact.

Routeburn Falls Hut (NZ): A palace on stilts between forest and mountain

My mate Jim and I once tried the same at the old Windy Ridge Hut (now the new Bert Nicholls Hut). At the time it was one of the “meaner” huts on the Overland Track, and when our party arrived late, we duly got the “leper” treatment.

The next day the hut emptied of its anti-social inhabitants, but our party stayed on. We weren’t walking the Overland Track, and some of the group wanted to explore the waterfalls beyond Du Cane Gap. Seeing the wet weather, and being more than familiar with the falls, Jim and I decided to have a hut day.

But as we set ourselves up for a day of sleeping, eating, talking and reading, we also chatted about our experience the night before. We both agreed that we wanted to see what difference a welcoming attitude might make. So from mid-afternoon, as the next set of walkers arrived, we laid out the proverbial red carpet. We offered cups of tea and chocolates to the exhausted; shared stories with the bright-eyed; joked with the lively-looking, and generally acted like hosts for each new arrival.

It worked. That night, and the following morning, were among the best hut experiences I’ve ever shared. All because of a small shift in attitude.

Monday 17 January 2011

Fling Me In That Briar Patch!

Red and pink forms of scoparia between Shadow Lake and Mt Rufus

Den Brer Rabbit said "I don't keer w'at you do wid me, Brer Fox, ...but don't fling me in dat brier-patch." (from the Uncle Remus stories)

The Tasmanian wilderness is the only place in the world you’ll find the ferociously prickly plant known as scoparia (Richea scoparia). It forms dense thickets that few bushwalkers would want to be flung into.

Yet this January I do believe I began to develop some Brer Rabbit characteristics (given that he actually DID want to be thrown into the bushes in order to escape from Brer Fox). Because on seeing the flowering scoparia surrounding Mt Rufus in the Cradle Mt-Lk St Clair National Park, I gladly spent hours wandering among - and occasionally flinging myself into - this stunning vegetation just to get a closer look.

A meandering, slowly ascending track approaches Mt Rufus from the Shadow Lake side. The first hint of what was ahead came when we met a pair of walkers in a deep green patch of rainforest between Mts Hugel and Rufus. On their return from the top of Rufus, the two were breathless for reasons other than exertion. After all they were descending, not climbing.

We exchanged pleasantries, but they very quickly moved the talk onto wildflowers. One of them, a gardener in NSW, told us he was simply overawed by the garden of flowers they'd just walked through. "I could only wish to design anything so superb!"

We took his rave with a pinch of salt - these mainlanders can be easily impressed - and walked on in the direction they'd come from. When we started to see flowers, they were pleasant patches of bauera and lemon boronia: lovely enough, but nothing to blog home about. Then we turned a corner and began to walk through broad acres of flowering scoparia: red and deep pink first, but eventually gold, white, crimson, cream, ochre and most colours in between.

Scoparia gardens with Mt Rufus in the background

I have seen plenty of scoparia before, far too much on occasion. The foliage of this plant is a Swiss Army kit for inflicting pain on human skin. It can spike, gouge, cleave, scratch, rasp, pierce and shred both skin and clothing if you're unfortunate enough - or foolish enough - to be exposed to it for any length of time.

Of course I will admit that I have seen some delightful patches of it in flower. But never have I seen such a concentration of its beauty over such an extended period. For literally four of the seven hours we spent walking up, around and down from Mt Rufus, we were among flowering scoparia.

I know roses have their fans, and I can appreciate a good rose. I've even been to, and enjoyed, the National Rose Garden at Woolmers Estate near Longford in northern Tasmania. I also appreciate the notion of forgiving roses their thorns. But no rose gardener could come close to creating a garden that would hold me enraptured in the way the "roses" around Rufus did earlier in January.

It may sound magnanimous of me to say that I can now forgive scoparia its barbs. But I doubt I get the final say in this. There is no innoculation against beauty, and it can pierce far more deeply than any thorn. My exposure to that scoparian rapture now leaves an insatiable desire to be lifted bodily and flung again into that beautiful briar. Where are you Brer Fox?

Close-up of the white form of scoparia, Cradle Mt-Lk St Clair  National Park

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